Ivan Gale Twenty Emiratis, most of them women, have begun training in Al Ain to become the nation's first aerospace manufacturing technicians. These 12 women will replace their abayas and sheilas with Islam-appropriate uniforms to work alongside their male counterparts to produce vital parts for aeroplanes such as the Airbus A380. Their uniforms will conform to local sensitivities: long and not tight. The women will also cover their hair.
One of the trainees is Sharifa al Kayoumi, a 23-year-old from Abu Dhabi. A graduate of the Higher Colleges of Technology and a former customer-service representative at a bank, she said she can't wait to get to work in high-technology manufacturing. "All of the girls, when asked why they want to work in the factory, they have the same answer: 'Because we want to be active'," she said. These trainees are the first batch from the 300 Emiratis who applied to become technicians at Strata, a new company that will make composite aircraft parts at a plant next to Al Ain airport. Strata is owned by Mubadala Aerospace, a subsidiary of the government investment arm Mubadala Development.
"The blue collar, 'touch labour' that we are going to need, we don't want to pull that from the subcontinent and the rest of the world, we want to create that here," said Homaid al Shemmari, the executive director of Mubadala Aerospace. Mubadala has established a partnership with the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) in Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council as it races to meet the manpower requirements of its plans to make the capital an aerospace centre, covering manufacturing and maintenance as well as research and development.
Strata has more than US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) in orders from leading companies such as Airbus, Alenia Aeronautica and FACC, and it is also in discussions with Boeing. Mubadala plans to train 175 Emirati technicians and 75 engineers for Strata over the next two years and aims to have Emiratis constituting half of its workforce by 2015. "We are creating the job opportunities," Mr al Shemmari said. "But we said, 'Where is the education system that is actually going to be producing the pipeline of talent, of UAE nationals, that will be filtering into our industry?'"
Mubadala will seek to collaborate on more technical programmes at other local universities, he said. The technician training is being conducted at IAT's Al Ain International Aviation Academy. It includes a four-month programme of maths, English and physics courses, followed by six months of training in composites - the lightweight materials increasingly used in airframes - and a year-long supervised training regime at Strata.
A separate engineering programme will take college graduates for three and a half years of course work and on-the-job training at Strata as well as at plants in the US and Europe.